Amid the debate between trans-Atlantic allies and beyond on the security challenges posed to 5G network development by Chinese suppliers, New Europe’s Andrianos Giannou had the chance to exchange views with Damian Collins MP, a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and one of the leading voices in this debate, as Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

New Europe: What are your concerns regarding Huawei?

Damian Collins (DC): The current debate on Huawei has focused on the role that the company may play in building Britain’s 5G infrastructure. However, I have concerns about the existing role that Huawei has within the nation’s digital infrastructure.

In the United Kingdom, since 2010, Huawei has been subject to a unique system of oversight with the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) at its core. In its 2019 report, the centre’s Oversight Board was only able to provide a “limited assurance that all risks to UK national security from Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s critical networks can be sufficiently mitigated long-term”.

NE: Huawei currently does some business within the UK. Do you believe the current business relationship between the UK and Huawei is a threat in any way?

DC: The 2019 report by the HCSEC Oversight Board, referenced above, leads me to question whether the current participation of Huawei within Britain’s digital infrastructure is appropriate.

The Oversight Board reports that it has “continued to identify concerning issues in Huawei’s approach to software development” which causes a “significantly increased risk to UK operators”, and that, worryingly, “no material progress has been made on the issues raised in the previous 2018 report.”

It is clear that there are significant problems with the build and operation of existing Huawei equipment, this is before the company’s participation in a future 5G network has even been considered.

NE: If, at any time in the future, it is revealed that Huawei performs espionage for China, how should the UK respond?

DC: If it was proven that Huawei was performing espionage in the UK on behalf of another state, its equipment would clearly have to be removed.

There are existing concerns about the security of Huawei equipment currently embedded within our national infrastructure. We must ensure, as we move to create the next generation of digital infrastructure, that the building blocks of the network are not constructed in such a way that it would be impossible to remove hardware and software provided by a single foreign company.

NE: How do any security concerns about Huawei affect the UK’s relationship with China?

DC: Huawei needs to address the security concerns that have already been raised about its network in the UK. This should not require the intervention of the Chinese Government.

NE: With President Trump advocating for a ban on Huawei, what do you think the UK’s stance on allowing Huawei a role in building the 5G network should be? What should the UK’s strategy be?

DC: It is essential that the issues highlighted by the HCSEC Oversight Board are dealt with expediently.

If sufficient progress is not made by the time that the Oversight Board writes their next report, then the government needs to evaluate whether Huawei should be permitted to participate in the existing network. If these issues persist, then Huawei should not be given a role in constructing the next generation network within the United Kingdom.

NE: France and other NATO member have been working or intend to work with Huawei, despite security concerns from the US and elsewhere. How do you believe this could affect relations and cooperation between the allies?

DC: This is clearly a matter of great importance to the American government. I am confident that NATO members will be able to maintain good relations, regardless of the decisions each nation takes regarding Huawei. The UK must continue to act in its own national security interests.

NE: Does Huawei pose a threat to the Five Eyes alliance?

DC: I have every confidence that the Five Eyes alliance will continue to cooperate, no matter what each of the members decides to do regarding their own networks. Clearly though we should listen to the security concerns raised by some of our closest allies.

NE: Once the UK exits its continental trading bloc, its partnerships with other countries will become more economically important. How should the UK balance dealing with US and China, two countries that are in heavy competition with each other?

DC: Security should always be the paramount concern when making such decisions. We must not compromise the security of our digital infrastructure for the sake of purchasing cheaper equipment.